As part of our ‘Robinhood’ fundraising event at INSEAD, I auctioned off a Local Eats & Tasty Treats tour of Singapore, raising over SGD300 (!), to take people around to try lesser known local dishes and hidden gems around the city.
I always tell visitors that there isn’t much to do in Singapore, but there are just not enough meals in a weekend to try all the good food here – let alone on a half day tour. But here are some of the things I thought were worth highlighting.
Loo’s Hainanese Curry Rice
It’s hard to be in Singapore and not eat Hainanese Chicken Rice – sometimes dubbed the ‘national dish’. But the less famous and in fact truly Singaporean dish that is unique to this city and born from the mishmash of cultures, is the Hainanese Curry Rice. Despite its confusingly similar name, it’s a completely different animal. This messy dish typically consists of fried pork chop, pork belly, squid, chap chye (braised cabbage), atop rice and covered in curry sauce.
I found that the curry here was especially flavourful – apparently they cook it over 3 days. It’s a pretty heavy meal and not something you’d want to eat often, but definitely something to try at least once.
Address: 71 Seng Poh Rd #01-49, Tiong Bahru
Spend per person: SGD5
A walk around Tiong Bahru
Dotted with pastel coloured houses and small hipster cafes, it’s not hard to see why Tiong Bahru is often cited as the favourite neighbourhood. So we took a short stroll around the block as I showcased some highlights of the area. Tiong Bahru Bakery is said to have some of the best bread in Singapore by our French classmates. They also serve coffee from Common Man Coffee Roasters, which is always quite reliable. Merci Marcel is a French cafe-restaurant which has some healthier eggy brunch options, and a beautiful bohemian chic decor. Another favourite brunch cafe in the area is Forty Hands.
We took the mini stroll to ultimately end up at Galicier Pastry, a typical fuss free local bakery, to get some “kueh” desserts to takeaway. I’m told that the artificial aesthetics and weird-looking texture meant that “they’re not especially appealing” so many would never dream of trying them. Everyone on the tour gave each one a bite – the feelings were mixed, although generally pleasantly surprised. My personal favourites are the Kueh Salat (green pandan on the top layer, coconutty sticky rice on the bottom) and Rainbow Kueh.
Pandan cake is another local bakery item that’s a must-try, although I wasn’t a huge fan of the one at Galicier Pastry which was relatively mild in pandan flavours. Instead, I still prefer the ones from Bengawan Solo – which I almost always get from the airport back home.
Address: Blk 55 Tiong Bahru Rd, #01-39
Price: Approx. SGD0.8 per piece
Alexandra Village Food Centre
We then took an Uber to Alexandra Village Food Centre. We ordered some xiao long baos and fried dumplings from Shanghai La Mian. Although not the most refined, these dumplings were tasty and extremely good value for money.
But the main course of the tour was the claypot laksa from Depot Road Zhen Shan Mei Claypot Laksa – definitely my favourite! The broth is extremely intense in spice, seafood and coconut flavours and is always perfectly calibrated. Even though we asked for ‘less spicy’, the soup was still a tad too spicy for me, although satisfyingly so.
Address: 120 Bukit Merah Lane 1
Price per person: SGD5-10
Tiong Hoe Specialty Coffee
It was only apt to end our meal with a hidden gem of a cafe (serving western and not local specialty coffee) to showcase the extremely advanced and developed coffee scene this city is now home to. Tiong Hoe Specialty Coffee was one of the pioneers of the coffee trend in Singapore, with over 50 years of coffee roasting history. It’s located deep within an HDB complex – its unassuming location was one reason I wanted to take people here, but they also make an extremely smooth flat white which is probably my top one or two favourites in Singapore.
Address: 170 Stirling Rd
Spend per person: SGD5